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Children's Health

9 Childhood Illnesses: Get the Facts

You may not have heard of these childhood illnesses, but they are more common than you think.
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WebMD Feature
Reviewed by Roy Benaroch, MD

Sick days are part of being a kid; worrying about childhood illnesses is part of being a parent. You wonder, what's that weird rash? Does that cough sound worse than before? Am I going to catch this, too?

Parents quickly learn from experience all about ear infections, pinkeye, stomach bugs, colds, and the flu. These things may be most familiar to you, but there's a whole world of childhood illnesses out there that you may not know about.

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Several of these childhood illnesses are viral or bacterial infections. That means they are preventable to some extent by encouraging your child to keep his or her hands clean with old-fashioned soap and water. Practicing good "cough etiquette" is another important way of reducing the spread of childhood illnesses. Kids should be taught to cover their mouths when they cough and wash their hands afterward.

1. RSV

Respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) is a very common childhood illness. It's even more common than seasonal flu. "It causes a lot more problems for children than influenza does," says Michael Brady, MD, an infectious disease expert at Nationwide Children's Hospital, in Columbus, Ohio.

Most of us have had exposure to RSV (respiratory syncytial virus) by the time we're 2 years old. RSV causes some of the same symptoms as cold and flu, such as fever, runny nose, and cough.

For babies less than 1 year old, RSV is the most common cause of pneumonia and bronchiolitis, an inflammation of the small air passages in the lungs. Wheezing is a telltale symptom of these conditions, which sometimes have to be treated in the hospital. Only about 25% to 40% of young children with their first RSV infection will have any noticeable wheezing, however. Even fewer, 2% or less, are hospitalized. Preterm babies can be particularly vulnerable to RSV. There is no vaccine for RSV, but the medication palivizumab can help prevent serious illness from RSV.

RSV infections last about 1 to 2 weeks. You're not immune to RSV once you've had it. You can have an RSV infection at any age, but "after you get it a few times, it's just a cold to you," Brady says.

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